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Meant To Be
One: The New World

By Hellmouthguy




It was Friday afternoon and Willow had dragged Faith out of her motel room and insisted they hang out at the Starbucks and drink coffee together. Willow had been trying to hang out with her a lot lately, and she didn't seem to want to take no for an answer. Faith had blown her off a couple of times but today it had just seemed simpler to give in.

Faith liked Willow. But she knew Willow was only doing this because she felt bad for her...she must have heard about her fight with Buffy, and she felt bad. Just like the time she'd taken Faith on a tour of Sunnydale. Willow felt bad.

She sat on a couch in the Starbucks with Willow, and looked around at the paintings on the walls that were cooler than they had any right to be, hanging in a Starbucks. She watched the college kids sitting around on couches drinking coffee and gazing lovingly into their laptops, and the old people reading newspapers and eating pastries at the little tables. Willow had brought her to the Starbucks a couple of times before; it was sort of their place now. Some kind of adult contemporary pseudo-alternative music was being piped in; it was a step above elevator music but in its blandness and its effort to blend into the background and not draw any attention to itself it stood out from the other noises, the conversations and the little computer sounds and the sounds of spoons and coffee mugs, and grated on Faith's nerves.

Willow drank her extra-large super mocha cappuccino with lots of sugar and cocoa sprinkles, and she had her laptop with her, as always. Faith drank her medium hot cocoa and she had six dollars in her pocket.

She didn't have the slightest idea what she was doing there. Maybe Willow wanted to make her watch her do homework.

"How you been, sweetie?" Willow said. "I miss hanging with you. It's hard like, prying you away from Buffy long enough to hang. You puttin' the fear into all the Big Bads?"

Willow always initiated the conversations. It wasn't that Faith didn't like her. She just never had any idea what to say to her. She was dumb and Willow was smart. What do you say to a smart girl? How's math been treating you?

"Yeah, y'know, I'm showin' all the bad guys the pimp hand, best I can," Faith said. Faith tried to keep her responses as varied and interesting as she could. She didn't want Willow to think she was bored. She liked Willow. She liked her strawberry scent. She liked how Willow's voice was goofy and soothing at the same time, and how she laughed too loud. She liked the weird sweaters she wore, and the funky hats. She had blown her off before but now she felt guilty about it.

"How are you and Buffy doing?" Willow said.

Faith hadn't seen or heard from Buffy in three days.

"B and me, we're cool," Faith said. "We do our thing."

It was probably better this way, Faith thought. Probably better that Buffy had given up on her.

The next morning there was a knock at the door. Faith stretched and yawned, and squinted at the window; she didn't have a clock but it looked early. She tuned into her nose. She smelled Buffy. And chicken?

She plodded to the door. She'd been out until three in the morning, slaying and stealing. She'd swiped some clothes from the mall, but unfortunately none of the vampires she'd mugged had any cash on them. She was down to three dollars.

When she opened the door a blast of cold air hit her. The look on Buffy's face wasn't doing anything to warm it up. Buffy brushed by her into the room and Faith quickly shut the door behind her. Buffy was wearing a sweater and tight jeans that fit perfectly and the usual expertly applied makeup. She was carrying a big plate of chicken with tinfoil on it. She set the plate on the bureau.

"What's goin' on?" Faith said, yawning.

"I brought you some food," Buffy said. "Chicken. You liked my Mom's chicken last time."

"What? Why?"

"I don't want you to not have food."

"I got food."

"I got an idea," Buffy said, and sat on the bed and took off her coat. Faith thought it was a hell of a coat; it was a red hooded angora coat that fit Buffy perfectly and went nicely with her long blonde hair and Buffy looked great in it. "How about you stop lying to me. Makes things simpler."

"Thanks for the food but...I'm okay, Buffy," Faith said. "I don't need it."

"My Mom wants you over for dinner again," Buffy said, looking away from her. "I know you hate me now but she wanted me to invite you, she wants to know why you haven't been over all week."

"What?" Faith said. "What the hell makes you think I hate you? Where the hell did you get that idea?"

Buffy still wouldn't look at her.

"Will you come over for dinner?" Buffy said. "My Mom wants you to come over tonight, if you're not busy. You don't have to hang out with me. You can just eat and leave if you want."

"I...can't make it tonight, Faith said. "Raincheck, okay?"

Buffy didn't look at her. She looked at the painting on the wall.

"That thing will make you dizzy," Faith said.

Faith sat next to her on the bed.

"Buffy," Faith said, and took her hand. "I don't know where you're getting this from, okay? I don't hate you."

Buffy pulled her hand away.

"Will you eat the chicken?" Buffy said.

"I don't need it," Faith said.

Buffy sat motionless on the bed, looking away from her.

Faith's plan was to ignore Buffy, to make it easier to lose her when she graduated from school. Faith was realizing she couldn't stick to that plan.

She knew Buffy had lied to her. She knew Buffy was planning on leaving her. Faith guessed maybe she was Buffy's fling before college. She thought the guy she saw Buffy kissing was the one-time guy, the guy Buffy had talked about...and that Buffy still loved him, and always would, and that was that.

But Faith still couldn't stick to her plan.

"You want to eat it with me?" Faith said. "We can eat together."

"Okay," Buffy said.

"How about I come over for dinner tomorrow night?" Faith said. "Is Joyce good with tomorrow night?"

"Okay," Buffy said. And finally looked at her. Faith thought she looked tired. She looked like she hadn't been sleeping. But she was still beautiful.

It would be hard from now on, Faith knew; a balancing act. She had hurt Buffy, by pulling away. Faith knew she'd have to let Buffy in again, at least a little...no matter how much it would hurt when Buffy eventually left her after graduation, she had to let her back in. She couldn't let Buffy think she hated her.

Faith brought the plate of chicken back to the bed, and brought the last two Cokes in from the bathroom, and they ate together in silence.

A week later it was Saturday night and it was Halloween, and Faith sat with Buffy and Willow and Xander in the Bronze, and tried to be part of the group. According to Buffy, vampires took Halloween off so there was no reason to bother patrolling. Vampires apparently considered going out on Halloween tacky. Xander was dressed as James Bond. "Just in case," he had said. Willow was wearing a catsuit. "And I look so much better than Cordelia in it," she had said. Faith had to agree. She'd met Cordelia after they had killed Kakistos, and Cordelia was hot enough, but as far as Faith was concerned Willow was rocking that catsuit.

Fuck, Faith thought.

Buffy wore jeans and a sweater. Faith wore jeans and a blouse.

"Yeah, so there I am, wearing, no lie, a bikini and flip-flops, and I'm chasing this vampire for like six miles through Boston, into Cambridge and Watertown," Faith said, chuckling. "And it's summer, right? It's summer and it's a Saturday night and people are out on the streets pointing at me, drunk guys are like 'take it off, honey!' and 'do I get fries with that shake?' and I remember thinking to myself as I'm chasing this vamp for six miles in a frigging bikini, God damn it, does that girl in California ever have to deal with shit like this?"

They laughed. "No," Buffy said. "But you'd be surprised at what I do have to deal with." Faith smiled. She liked when she could make Buffy laugh.

"Um...where'd you keep your stake?" Willow said. "I mean, you were wearing a bikini."

Buffy ignored the image that came into her head just then. She knew she couldn't have Faith that way again...Faith didn't want her that way anymore. So she tried not to think about her that way. But Faith was so beautiful...and it was hard, sometimes...

"Had a little handbag thing with me," Faith said.

"Faith has the coolest stories ever," Xander said. "Why doesn't Buffy have stories like that?"

"You want me to wear a bikini when I go on patrols?" Buffy said.

"Is there any answer that doesn't get me in trouble?" Xander said.

"Nope," Willow said. "Trust me, Xander, it's a trap. Like that time she asked you if she looked fat."

"I have no comment at this time," Xander said.

Faith thought the Bronze was still a dump. But Faith had nothing against dumps: The Roxy wasn't winning any awards either. And the dance floor was still serviceable. Crazy, laughing kids in Halloween costumes were dancing to Monster Mash now. The music tonight was a snooze; a bunch of corny Halloween songs that you couldn't really dance to was being piped through the speakers. It didn't stop the Sunnydale kids from dancing though. Those kids could dance to anything. Folk music, corny Halloween music...Faith just didn't get these people. Faith wanted a DJ spinning good, fast tunes. One DJ in particular.

But he was gone, now.

So she sat on the plush couch with Buffy and Willow and Xander, and tried to be part of the group...and tried not to think of Evan...and tried not to think of Buffy, leaving her.

Buffy didn't sit next to her. Willow sat next to her. Buffy sat at the opposite end of the couch, next to Xander.

"So how do you like Sunnydale, Faith?" Willow said, as the conversation hit a wall. Faith only had so many stories to tell. Willow was always the one who tried to keep the conversation going, who tried to keep Faith involved. Faith knew part of it was gratitude; she'd saved the girl's life, after all, so Willow kept trying, despite their differences. Faith had been in Sunnydale a little more than a month now, and she had come to realize there were a lot of differences. Willow was sweet, and kind, and most of all, smart. Honor roll every semester, all kinds of options waiting after graduation. Harvard had already accepted her, Oxford had recruited her. Faith had dropped out of school after ninth grade, she lived in a motel that might as well have been a brothel and she knew the closest she'd ever get to college was that time she broke into UC Sunnydale and stole a sword. Willow was smart. Faith was dumb. And Willow felt bad for her.

Willow had made a real effort to talk to her, to try to get to know her. She had been coming by Faith's motel all week, asking to come along when she patrolled, inviting her to the Starbucks, and asking her about Boston and Rebecca and what it was like to be a Slayer. Willow kept pretending to like her, kept trying to include her. Faith had decided it would be easier to just play along until Willow got bored. She blew her off when she could get away with it and hung out with her when she couldn't come up with an excuse not to. Faith was a dumb girl with no money, no friends and no family, so she knew for now she was Willow's charity project. Adopt a Slayer. She figured Willow would give up eventually. She and Buffy would be graduating next year, they had college coming up, plans to make...lives to get ready for. Faith figured they'd try to hang out with her off and on until graduation, then they'd leave, move away, and they'd all lose touch, and Faith would be the Slayer guarding the Hellmouth, maybe with Giles as her Watcher, and Buffy would be gone...

Faith knew Willow was just hanging with her because she felt bad, but trying to figure Buffy out gave Faith a headache. She knew Buffy was leaving after graduation and instead of banging her head against a wall she'd finally decided to just try to enjoy the time they had left. But Xander was easy to figure, at least. He wanted her around so he could try to get into her pants; what else could it be? That's all guys ever thought she was good for anyway. She'd caught him checking her out a few times, though he was being slick about it. And there was no other good explanation for why a guy would want to hang with her. He still hadn't asked her out. She wondered when he would.

Faith didn't fit with Buffy and Willow and Xander, with their families and their nice houses; with homework and hanging out at the mall and planning for college. She knew she didn't fit.

Faith took a sip of the Coke she'd been nursing all night because she only had enough money for one. It was down to watery ice cubes now.

"You've had a month to get used to it now...if anyone ever does," Willow continued, sipping her ever-present mocha cappuccino. "Is Buffy showing you all the coolest old crypts? She's not hogging all the A-list Big Bads, is she?"

"You haven't had the entire Sunnydale experience until you've met your first giant snake," Xander said.

"I'm all set with giant snakes, thanks," Willow said. "Too many snakes."

"Never saw a giant snake you liked, huh?" Xander said. Buffy smiled.

"Maybe not a giant snake," Willow said. "There was this medium-sized snake that wasn't so bad."

"Sunnydale's a trip," Faith said. "I'm acclimating."

"Don't worry, you never know when we'll get another giant snake," Buffy said. "You'll get the full ride eventually. Things don't really heat up around here until spring anyway. For some reason, around April and May is when the Hellmouth always decides to really get jiggy with it."

"So Faith, we know where Willow stands on giant snakes," Xander said. "What's your official position?" He grinned. "Ow," he added, as Willow did something to him under the table.

Faith had to give Xander points for trying. "Wanna know what I think about big, long snakey things, huh?" she said, and grinned back at him.

"She loves them," Buffy said. "And so do I. We both love big, long, hard snakey things. They're just the greatest."

Faith laughed. "Hell, longer the better, right, B?" she said.

"Absolutely," Buffy said. "But hey, I hear medium's great too," she added, smiling at Xander.

"So Faith, what's Boston like?" Willow said, blushing a little, and quickly changing the subject. It was about the fifth time one of them had asked her. It was the kind of question you asked a stranger, when you didn't know what else to say.

"Cold. Different. Less weird," Faith said.

"Baked beans too," Buffy said.

"Do they all talk like you?" Xander said.

"Like me?" Faith said. "Like me how?"

"Your accent," Buffy said. "You're like the lost Kennedy. You're all, 'I, ah, would like to, ah, propose that we pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd, and, ah, furthermawh, ich bin ein Berlinah!'," Buffy said, as Willow and Xander laughed.

"Shit, I really talk like that?" Faith said.

"There's this letter," Xander said. "It comes between 'Q' and 'S'. You should try it out sometime, see how you like it."

"Shit," Faith said, and chuckled into her glass.

It was a good little run, but then the conversation hit another wall.

"Uh, yeah, so uh, I should take off," Faith said.

"Really? But...it's early," Willow said.

"Yeah I know, but I'm sorta learning my way around," Faith said. "Introducing myself to the vamps. Y'know, like, 'Hey, vamps and vampettes, name's Faith, I'll be your Slayer for this evening.'"

"Want me to tag along?" Buffy said. She knew what the answer would be.

"I got it, B," Faith said. "You guys take it easy, I'll check you later."

And then she was gone.

"She doesn't like us," Xander said.

"What?" Willow said. "What do you mean she doesn't like us? She likes us. Of course she likes us. Who wouldn't like us?"

"Will, whenever she's with us she says about six words and takes off early," Xander said. "Either she doesn't like us or I really need to change my deodorant, and no, we will not be making 'Xander is smelly' jokes now."

Buffy thought back to the day she and Faith first met. They had started at each other's throats, almost coming to blows; they had ended in bed together, having sex so passionately that for much of the act, neither of them was quite sure if they were fucking or fighting. All in a day.

She thought about how Faith always made her laugh.

"Maybe she's just shy," Willow said. "She's been through some stuff, with her Watcher and everything, and now she's all the way on the other side of the country. Maybe she just needs time to get used to us."

"You wanna weigh in on this, Buff?" Xander said.

"It's not you guys," Buffy said. "She likes you guys. It's me. She doesn't want to be here with me. I think...she might leave. Maybe she needs to leave, find her own place, her own territory."

"What? Leave?" Willow said. "You want her to leave?"

Buffy thought about it. She thought about what her life was like, before she met Faith...how much simpler it was.

But she had laughed less, too.

"No," Buffy said.

"How have you been honey?," Joyce said, as she served them dinner. Beef stew. "I hear Buffy and Xander have been making fun of your accent."

It was Thursday. Dinner at Buffy's house had turned into a regular thing again, and Faith was expected to show up, at least twice a week. Faith hadn't been able to come up with an excuse to get out of it tonight, so she sat at the kitchen table with Buffy, and smiled politely at Joyce. She'd blown Buffy's friends off as often as she could get away with, but there were some lines she knew she couldn't cross with Buffy; being rude to Joyce was one of them. On days she didn't come over for dinner, Faith always found a homemade meal waiting for her in her motel room. Faith usually slept with the window open, so Buffy came in through the window in the mornings before Faith woke up, and left a plate of food.

"People from Boston talk like the Mayor on the Simpsons," Buffy said. "Someone needs to make fun of them."

"Your accent is charming, Faith," Joyce said, and patted Faith's hand. "Don't you ever lose it."

"Don't you mean 'chaaahming'?" Buffy said.

"Y'know, you guys got accents too," Faith said.

"Yeah, correct ones," Buffy said. "But it's cool, it's like hanging with a foreign exchange student. Um, but one who isn't really a Mummy."

"You fought a Mummy?" Faith said.

"Buffy, remember our rule," Joyce said.

"Oh yeah," Buffy said. "Mom doesn't like Slayer talk at the table."

"It's just that it seems to be all you ever talk about," Joyce said. "It's good to have a little time every day when you don't."

"So to wrap up the Mummy story real quick, weird foreign exchange girl lived with us for a week, turned out to be an Incan Mummy, dated Xander, tried to kill us all, I kicked her butt," Buffy said.

"Xander dated a Mummy?" Faith said.

"She was pretty enough before she decided to kill everyone," Buffy said. "Xander was always a weird girl magnet. Demon girls, Mummy girls, giant praying mantis girls, yup, they all wanted to get busy with Xander."

When they were finished eating, before Faith could come up with a reason to take off, Buffy said, "Mom, Faith and I are gonna go up to my room and hang out." Faith noticed something strange in the look Buffy and Joyce exchanged.

"Sure, honey," Joyce said. "There's ice cream in the fridge if you both want dessert later."

"Come on, Faith," Buffy said, as they excused themselves and Faith thanked Joyce for the dinner. "I'll show you my Brad Pitt scrapbook."

When they got to her room Buffy closed the door and said, "Relax, Faith. I'm not gonna try to kiss you, okay?"

"Okay," Faith said, and sat on the bed. Buffy sat next to her.

"Faith...I want to talk to you," Buffy said.

"Shoot," Faith said. She wondered what it was going to be now. It seemed like every other day there was another left turn in her life. Losing Rebecca and Evan. Coming to Sunnydale. Killing Kakistos. Having sex with Buffy. Kissing Buffy, going on dates with her. Realizing she liked girls. Realizing she thought Willow was hot too. Trying to figure out if she was gay now. Wondering what the hell to do about Buffy...wondering how she would live without her.

She knew she would have to, eventually. She knew Buffy was leaving her to go away to school next year. And then she would be alone again.

"I don't want you to leave," Buffy said.

"What makes you think I'm leaving?" Faith said.

"I'm not stupid, Faith. I can see how uptight you are...how awkward this all is for you. I get that. And okay, I get that you don't want us to be...whatever. It's fine. I'll deal. But you're staying in that motel and it's...look, I want you to stay here with me. I talked to my Mom about it, we've got the extra bedroom that we've never done anything with, and we want you to stay here. This isn't like, I'm saying things have to go back to how they were between us. You don't want that and I get it. It's just...we've got the room here and...

Faith would have loved to stay there, in that big house with her own bedroom on the sunny, tree-lined street. It would be like having a sister.

But the offer was charity. Just like whenever Willow asked her to come hang out with her...Faith knew it was charity.

And she didn't think she could stand to be in that house with Buffy, and know she couldn't really have her...she thought it might kill her, after awhile.

"Hey, uh...thanks, but..." Faith started to say, getting up.

"Faith, listen," Buffy interrupted, and stood up with her. Faith could tell Buffy had rehearsed this; she'd been ready for Faith to turn her down and she wasn't done with the hard sell yet. Faith braced herself for it. "You save people's lives and you're in that lousy little motel room and it's not right, you deserve better than that. God knows how you're even supporting yourself, and..."
"God knows? Why, what do you think I'm doing to support myself? Think I'm hooking or something?"

Faith had no idea why she said that. But it was out there and she knew she couldn't take it back now.

She thought about the alley, where Rebecca had found her. She still remembered how it smelled. Old coffee grounds and rotten meat and bananas.

"What?!" Buffy shouted. "Of course not! How could you even think that? I was just saying that you--"

"That I'm poor, right?" Faith said. "That you feel bad for me. Like those little kids on TV. For just thirty cents a day we'll make sure this poor, hungry Boston girl can get a good meal."

Buffy's face went crimson. She'd offended Faith, and she felt bad about it. At the same time she wanted to kick her through a wall.

"I don't need your charity, Buffy," Faith said, and headed for the door.

"Hold it!" Buffy shouted, and grabbed Faith and spun her around.

"You don't get to do that!" Buffy screamed, jabbing her finger in Faith's face. "You don't get to take this and...and throw it back in my face like this! You don't get to throw this back in my Mom's face! She asked you into her home! Because she likes you! Yeah, okay, we want to help you out! What's so frigging wrong with that? You think I care that you don't have money? That it makes me think less of you? I don't have money either! My Mom has money! You and I are seventeen! We don't get to decide who are parents are or how much money they have! So okay, fine! Your family didn't have money! So what?"

"You done?" Faith said.

Buffy caught her breath. She wondered what her mother must be thinking downstairs.

"You know what, Faith?" Buffy said. "I've tried. Willow's tried, Xander's tried, Giles has tried. We're trying to include you, trying to help you out. And yeah, sure, part of it's that we feel bad for you. You're a Slayer and you don't have anywhere decent to live and you lost your Watcher and your mother used to hurt you, and it's not fair."

It was Faith's turn to blush now.

"Yeah," Buffy said. "I know about your mother, about what she did. The Watchers knew about it, so Giles knew. You always wondered why I wouldn't spank that little ass of yours, right? You remember, back before you got bored with me and decided to move on? Now you know."

"Fuck this," Faith said, her voice unsteady, on the verge of tears. She marched to the door.

Buffy beat her to it, and slammed the door shut as Faith opened it.

"Faith," Buffy said, her voice very steady. "Unless you want to fight me for real, right here and right now, you're gonna stand there and listen to what I have to say. You're not walking out that door until I'm done. And if you try I swear to God I'll kick your ass from one end of this fucking town to the other and you'll find out once and for all which one of us is tougher."

"Might be good for us to find that out," Faith said, looking back at her, and not giving an inch. "Once and for all."

"You won't like the answer," Buffy said. "Now shut up and listen."

"All right, B. Have your say."

Buffy walked away from her. "We've tried," she said. "Yeah, okay, partly because we feel bad. But that's not all it is. I was wrong about you that first night in the cemetery, but only partly wrong. You're not stupid. But you're arrogant. You're so wrapped up in yourself you can't fucking see straight."

Buffy turned to her. But Buffy was looking at her in a way Faith had never seen before. Like she was letting her go.

"You think we're trying and trying, and putting up with your shit, with your moods and your constantly blowing us off, because we feel bad for you?" Buffy said. "Willow and Xander, you think they invite you out because they feel bad for you? Like they look for people less fortunate than themselves to hang around with? They've got better things to do. Me? Giles? I'm the Slayer and he's my Watcher. We save lives. We've got better things to do than feel bad for you. Do you really think we spend all day worrying about you and whether or not you're depressed this week? Okay, yeah, you're a Slayer. That and a buck buys you a mocha cappuccino in this town. But there's just gonna be another one after you, so if you go south, we'll get over it. News flash: you're not on our minds all day. We don't spend our days thinking up creative new ways to be nice to you. Because you're just not that important. So if you want to live in that motel and steal to get by, or whatever it is you're doing now? Fine. Go ahead. At least you'll have your pride, right? Your pride, and no friends."

Buffy turned away from her, and looked out the window.

"You know why we all kept trying to include you?" Buffy said. "The real reason why? My Mom, Willow, all of us? Not because we're all scrambling around trying to fix your life. It's because we were stupid enough to like you, and to think you liked us back. That's it. No big conspiracy. I thought...I thought you liked me. But you obviously don't. You never want to be with us, you never want to be with me anymore. You've got better things to do too, I guess. So hey, congratulations, Faith. We get the message. We give up."

She turned and looked at Faith, and if Faith could have taken back everything she had said, she would have, when she saw that look in Buffy's eyes...when she saw the hurt she knew she had caused.

"If you don't want to be here then maybe you should go back to Boston, Faith," Buffy said.

She turned back to the window, and didn't look at Faith again.

"I thought Faith was supposed to be with you?" Giles said, the next day, when he answered the door and saw Buffy standing there.

"So did I," Buffy said, following him into the house. She walked into the living room and sat on the couch. "Didn't work out that way."

"I see," Giles said. "Would you like something to eat? I have some more of those tea cookies I know you don't like."

"That's okay," Buffy said.

Giles went into the kitchen and came back with a pot of tea and three cups on a tray. He poured tea for himself and Buffy.

"I made the kind you like," Giles said. "With a dash of honey."

"Thanks," Buffy said, as he handed her a cup. "Why three cups?"

"Perhaps Faith will arrive after all. Terribly unfair to begrudge her some of my excellent tea."

"Terribly," Buffy said, and sipped her tea. "But something tells me she won't be coming, Giles."

"What happened between you two?"

"Faith happened. What else is new? She just doesn't want to be here, Giles. She doesn't want to be with me. Maybe Boston's really the best place for her. Maybe...two Slayers together..."

"This town isn't big enough for the both of you, hmm? You really are distressingly American at times."

"You've tried to talk to her, you know how she is. Don't tell me she's not a pain in your ass too."
"Oh yes, very much so. In fact she reminds me of another Slayer I know. I met her a little over a year and a half ago, as I recall...an appallingly disrespectful girl. Called me 'a textbook with arms', I believe."

Buffy smiled.

"And whenever I politely broached the subject of perhaps doing a bit of training or reading up in the Watchers Chronicles she always told me she had better things to do," he continued, sipping his tea, his blue eyes twinkling as he regarded her over the cup.

"She sounds like a real lost cause," Buffy said. "If I were you I would've told her to hit the bricks."

"I won't say I wasn't tempted," Giles said. "I tried my best with her, but when I offered her my counsel, the benefit of my years of experience..."

"Your years and years and years of experience..." Buffy said.

"She rebuffed me, every time," Giles said. "She wanted to do everything alone, much like Faith. Wouldn't even let me come on patrol with her. I actually had to follow her when she was on patrol, trying to stay hidden lest she cut me out of her life altogether. Yes, that one was definitely a pain in my arse."

"I saw you, you can't hide from a Slayer," Buffy said, and grinned. "I thought it was cute that you were following me, so I let you. This old English guy, huffing and puffing behind me..."

"I beg your pardon?" Giles said.

"This not so old, still very young and vigorous, English guy huffing and puffing behind me, trying to keep up with me...it was cute. So I let you. And we got it together, right? I even do training stuff now...sometimes."

"Oh yes, you're the ideal Slayer now," Giles said, rolling his eyes.

"We met each other halfway, right?" Buffy said.

"Yes, Buffy. Yes, we did."

"Faith won't, Giles."

"Buffy, I don't know what happened between you and Faith, and I'm certain you're not going to tell me. But I've found, in all my years and years and years on this Earth...that sometimes, people can surprise you."

The doorbell rang.

"It's not her," Buffy said, looking back at the door. "It's probably Xander. He hates when I do Slayer stuff without clueing him in."

Buffy tuned in to her nose.

It was Faith.

"Remember what I told you the cardinal rule of being a Slayer is," Giles said, and got up and opened the door.

"Hey," Faith said. "Sorry I'm late."

"Your Watcher is always right," Buffy muttered.

"Well, if it isn't the prodigal Slayer," Giles said. "Come in."

"Bite your tongue, G-Man," Faith said. "I never went away." She followed him to the living room, looking past him, at Buffy. Buffy's face was red.

Faith looked toward the leather recliner. Giles beat her to it and sat down.

"Have a seat on the couch, Faith," Giles said. "It's big enough for the both of you." Buffy glared at him, and moved to the opposite end of the couch as Faith sat down.

"I made tea," Giles said, and poured Faith a cup.

"Uh...okay, thanks," Faith said, and took it.

"I have some tea cookies too, if you'd like," Giles said. "They're really quite dreadful."

"Uh...that's okay," Faith said, and sipped her tea. She stole a quick glance at Buffy. Buffy was looking straight ahead, straight at Giles.

"How have you been, Faith?" Giles said.

"Can't complain," Faith said, avoiding his eyes.

"Can't you?" Giles said.

Usually people didn't say anything after you said 'can't complain'. Faith didn't have a comeback ready. "Uh...no," Faith said. "Everything's good."

"We're going to have to talk about that, Faith. About your plans, and what you see yourself doing. But not tonight. Tonight, I have a mission for the two of you. I was very impressed by the way you worked together to defeat Kakistos and his men, especially now that I've done more research and I know how formidable he was. You may not want to admit it," Giles said, looking at Buffy, "but you two make an excellent team. You'll need to work as a team again tonight."

"Uh-huh," Faith said.

Buffy didn't say anything.

"Zombies," Faith said, as she walked through the cemetery that night with Buffy, each of them carrying a katana. It was a small cemetery, about the size of a schoolyard, with a broken gate, only two crypts, both in disrepair, and a few dozen tombstones. The lawn was weed-grown, and there were beer bottles and cigarette butts scattered around. "Never did zombies before."

Buffy walked ahead of her, not looking at her, not responding to her.

"You gonna give me the silent treatment forever or what?" Faith said.

Buffy finally stopped, and looked at her. "What's there to talk about?" she said. "We said everything there is to say."

"B..." Faith said, and sat on a tombstone, and looked down at the weeds. "You were right. You were trying to help me out and I threw it in your face. I'm sorry. You want me out of your town? Say the word, I'll leave in the morning."

Buffy looked at her, sitting there, alone.

It would be so much easier just to let her go...

Buffy sat on the tombstone next to her.

"My Mom told me you apologized to her on your way out last night," Buffy said.

"It was nice of her...always having me over, offering to let me stay," Faith said. "She's a nice lady."

"Yeah, she is," Buffy said. "In an always worrying kind of way. Like Carol Brady on speed."

"I just...don't know if I fit, B. I don't know if there's anywhere I fit. I had this good thing in Boston, with Becca, y'know? I had it real good, and then it all fell apart. I...I fucked it all up," Faith said, looking down at the weeds again. "I couldn't stop Kakistos and Becca died and it all fell apart. I fucked it all up."

"Faith," Buffy said. "First rule of being a Slayer. It's not 'Your Watcher is always right', which is what Giles will try to tell you it is. That's maybe the second rule. The first rule is, don't die."

The connection was there again. Buffy could feel it, again.

"You did the right thing, Faith," Buffy said. "You didn't die."

"Doesn't feel like the right thing," Faith said. "There should be a rule that says, 'Don't let your Watcher die.'"

"Faith, it wasn't your fault," Buffy said.

Faith looked down at the weeds.

A corpse suddenly shambled out of one of the crypts, moving toward them, but very slowly. Another followed after it, and then two more.

"So those are zombies, huh?" Faith said.

"Yup," Buffy said. "Thar be zombies."

"Anything you can tell me before we jump in?"

"They're pretty much like in the movies. Beheading them works. Although Giles says the ones in the movies should be called ghouls, since real zombies don't actually eat people and they don't spread like an infection like in the movies. Real zombies are either living people or reanimated corpses that are being controlled by someone else and don't have minds of their own. Like cheerleaders. But not as bitchy."

The zombies still hadn't reached them yet. Buffy and Faith watched them, and waited.

"These look like the corpse variety," Faith said. "They're pretty damn slow. How come Giles thinks this is gonna take two of us?"

"Because zombies are tough and they don't feel pain," Buffy said. "Kick them all day and they'll just stand there and giggle. And they hit you once and trust me, you'll feel it. The only way to stop them is beheading. Plus they work as a team, ganging up, trying to surround you. Think of them as all one mind, the mind of whoever's controlling them. And they're like roaches too. Where there's one, there's a hundred. Those crypts are probably crawling with them."

"And on top of that, we gotta find the doohickey Giles said was controlling them," Faith said. "The Enchanted Pendant of Whatever."

"And who knows where that's gonna be," Buffy said. "Somewhere gross and icky, probably."

"And the guy controlling the zombies is actually the ghost of some thousand year old wizard who's trapped in a hell dimension. Which is really weird, but hey, whatever, I'm dealing."

"Remember what Giles said, the Pendant thingy's his link to this dimension. We destroy it, the zombies all go poof and the wizard can't bother anyone again."

The zombies were ten feet away now. Buffy and Faith stood up, and held their swords ready.

"Zombies. Enchanted bling. Thousand-year old wizards," Faith said. "I remember when I used to think vamps were weird."

"Welcome to Sunnydale," Buffy said.

"That mean you want me to stay?" Faith said.

"Sure," Buffy said, beheading the nearest zombie. "I like fighting."

That night, Faith sat in one of the rickety chairs in her motel room, and read Rebecca's letter again.

Giles had given it to her, after she and Buffy had killed Kakistos. It was the only thing Faith had left of Rebecca now.

Faith is a constant surprise to me, and a treasure, Rebecca had written, on her own fancy stationery with her name at the top that Faith had seen her use sometimes, in her elegant, flowing longhand.

...As a Slayer she has surpassed my every expectation, but it is as a young woman that she is truly special. Faith has lived a hard life, as you know from the Watchers Council records, but she has a generous, noble spirit...

...I won't lie to you, Mr. Giles; Faith is very important to me. I have grown extremely fond of her; I have come to see her as a daughter. And I protect her, as any mother would. Do you know I still go out with her on every patrol? Faith certainly doesn't need me out there hovering over her; she's absolutely lethal. But I just can't bear to let her go out there alone. I worry. It's terrible, I'm like some ridiculous old mother hen...

Faith smiled, like she always did, when she got to that part.

...I have found myself reluctant until now to bring Faith to Sunnydale, with its Hellmouth and its myriad dangers. But Faith is very curious about Buffy, and she has mentioned to me on more than one occasion that she wants to meet her. And I have found that it is impossible for me to refuse Faith, when she wants something. Therefore, when it's convenient for you and Buffy, I'd like to bring Faith to Sunnydale for an extended visit. Faith likes to see new places, and I've already mentioned to her that I believe it's time that she and Buffy start coordinating their efforts...

...And from what you've told me about Buffy, I believe she and Faith will become fast friends...

Faith carefully re-folded the letter, and put it back in the drawer.

You did the right thing, Faith. You didn't die.

Afterwards, lying awake in bed, Faith remembered Buffy's words, but she wasn't sure if Buffy was right. She thought maybe she had died after all, somewhere back in Boston...that the fall from the Prudential building really had killed her...that she had died with Rebecca.

She had been driven from her territory and she could never go back. Even with Kakistos gone, she was convinced now that the burden of being a Slayer couldn't be shared with anyone else. She knew if she went back to Boston she wouldn't be able to stop herself from going to see Evan...and she couldn't risk him ever being endangered again.

She lied a lot; she lied to Giles when he asked her questions about herself, and she made up excuses to get out of hanging with Buffy and Willow and Xander, and she never talked about Rebecca, or Evan.

Buffy had it pretty good, with her Mom and her nice house and her Watcher and her friends. Faith knew she didn't fit...

She knew Buffy would be leaving her soon.

She stole to get by, and she had started swearing again, and she ate fast food, and she didn't take piano lessons or go to museums or read books.

She didn't have territory anymore. No matter how many vampires Faith killed in Sunnydale, nothing would change the fact that Sunnydale was Buffy's territory. Faith wasn't the Slayer. Buffy was.

She looked over at the bureau. There was a plate of ham there. Buffy had snuck into the room and left it sometime that morning, while Faith slept. When Faith woke up it was there waiting for her. There were cookies too, in a folded-up napkin; Buffy knew Faith liked her Mom's homemade chocolate chip cookies, so Buffy always tried to include some, when she brought Faith food.

Faith got up and brought the plate of ham and mashed potatoes and corn and the napkin full of chocolate chip cookies to her bed.

Buffy knew Faith didn't like it when the mashed potatoes and the corn and the meat all got mixed together, so she carefully kept them separate whenever she made up a plate for Faith. The ham and the mashed potatoes and the corn were neatly segregated in their separate areas of the big plate.

Faith had supper.

The days passed, and Faith sat in her motel room, and looked out the window, and watched the little television, and ate the food Buffy brought her.

And Faith wondered if she had died after all...

...Or if she was just now waking up, and her life with Rebecca had been only a dream.




The Sunnydale High cafeteria was a cacophony of sound: more than a hundred students sat at long tables in the big, sunny room, unwinding after four interminable periods of rote memorization and math they would never in their lives have occasion to use, all under the watchful, suspicious eye of the Lunch Lady, who was fat, mannish-looking and surly and glowered at them behind her cash register at the end of the lunch line from within a protective cloud of cigarette smoke. It was Friday, and the room was filled with the kind of shrieking laughter that comes from trying to fit as much fun as possible into fifty minutes, and fantasizing about two blissful days of sleeping in.

For something that sounded like a bag full of cats in heat the cafeteria was nevertheless as regimented and orderly in its way as a military barracks. Jocks and cheerleaders sit at the Cool Table, here. Non-jocks and non-cheerleaders who are nevertheless hotties and therefore given a pass get to sit there, directly adjacent to but not at the Cool Table, on a probationary basis. Band geeks over there, computer nerds and assorted pimply brainiacs next to them. Goths at their own table, preferably away from the fine china. The cool kids laughed, and the nerds and brains and goths and just plain ugly kids laughed too, but not as loud or as long, and not at the same things (them). Everyone had their table, everyone had their place in the pecking order, and unfortunately, everyone also had their greasy microwave pizza slices and their congealed potato puffs.

Buffy, Willow and Xander had their own table, in the no man's land at the other end of the cafeteria. It was located under the tattered old Go Razorbacks! sign, goth-adjacent and very, very far from the cool kids. The table was too big for three people, but Willow was still hopeful they'd get a visitor someday.

Cordelia sat at the head of the Cool Table, watching them. Not for the first time, she thought how strange a combination they were. Anyone could see that Buffy was a born cheerleader, with her perky blonde good looks, and Willow--a little too shy, a little too goofy, with shockingly limited fashion sense, a red Raggedy Ann mop that screamed "ten-dollar mall cut" and brainiac-level smarts--was also very obviously a computer nerd. Xander wasn't purebred like her; more of a general loser. Not having pimples was about all he had going for him. Cheerleader, computer nerd, loser. Which of these three things doesn't belong? But Buffy had her chance...

Cordelia shook her head, powered-up her smile, and went back to taking compliments on her new hairstyle and trying to repress the image of Xander Harris' naked ass that had taken up residence in her head for the past month.

"So, Buffy...how's Faith?" Willow said. "Are you gonna ask her to stay at your place again?"

"I don't know," Buffy said. "And shouldn't I be asking you how she is? You've been hanging with her."

"She's all mopey," Willow said. "It used to be, when we hung out? That like, I'd do ninety-percent of the talking. It's up to like, ninety-eight percent now. But I'm hanging in."

"You're awesome, Will," Buffy said, and squeezed Willow's hand, and smiled. "I don't tell you that enough. I'm glad you're hanging in with Faith."

"I like her," Willow said. "She makes me laugh. She's like a big goof. She's uncomfortable because she's broke a lot and it's tough because I know she'd never let me treat her? So I have to always kinda pretend like I don't notice that she orders like, one little coffee over three hours. Because I know if I ever was like, 'Hey, let me buy you another coffee' she'd get all uncomfortable. But even though she blows me off sometimes? I'm chipping away. I'm like one of those big ice-breaker boats. I'm breaking the ice."

"How about you, Buff? You still a little angry with her?" Xander said.

"Yeah, there's that...there's always that, actually," Buffy said. "Faith and I spend about two-thirds of our time being pissed at each other these days. It was going great for awhile but...I don't know. Then something happened. It got weird. Anyway I don't think Faith wants me to ask her to stay with me again. It would embarrass her."

"She's been a little better around me since your fight," Willow said. "She hasn't blown me off at all this week. And she's mopey but...it's almost like...she's paying a little more attention now, when we go out. Like a lot of times when I used to talk to her, I mean, she'd always be polite, and try to act interested because she didn't want me to think she doesn't like me? But she'd be all closed off. But now she actually kinda seems like she wants to be there, a little. Like she's a little more open. I think that almighty ass-kicking you laid on her might have done her some good. But Buffy, she can't just stay in that motel forever."

"I don't think Faith's big on long-term planning," Buffy said. "I think she gets about as far as lunch."

"Will's right though, Buff," Xander said. "We can't keep it like this with Faith forever."

"Well, I think it'll work out with Faith. I asked the Goddess to help her out," Willow said, and grinned. "The Goddess and I are pretty tight these days."

"In my never-ending quest to try to manage a solid five minutes a day of not obsessing over Faith, how about we change the subject to you guys," Buffy said. "How's the most adorable couple ever?"

"I'm on an exercise regimen," Xander said. "Ow," he added, as Willow did something to him under the table.

"We're good," Willow said, and took Xander's hand. "Our six-week anniversary just passed."

"Oh God, that is the most adorable thing ever!" Buffy said. "Oh God, you guys are gonna make me cry now. I'm gonna get all goofy now and cry goofy friend tears."

Willow took Buffy's hand. "Happy tears, Buffy," she said. "We're happy. So you better be happy too, young lady," Willow added, giving Buffy the scowly face for emphasis.

"You know how long I've been hoping for this?" Buffy said. "This is like, my perfect fantasy. If you guys ever break up I swear I'll kick both your butts. So did you celebrate the anniversary? What did you do?"

"Well, Willow finally let me ow," Xander said, as Willow did something to him under the table again.

"We went out to eat in this really nice French restaurant I've had my eye on for awhile," Willow said. "And Xander gave me roses."

Buffy paused. A strange look passed her eyes. Willow thought she looked almost sad, for a second. Then Buffy smiled...or made herself smile.

"Sounds like a perfect night," Buffy said.

Giles suddenly appeared at their table looking flustered.

"Oh good," Buffy said. "The world's about to end again."

Giles wiped his glasses at them. "Well actually, you might be--" he began, but Buffy held up her hand.

"Shush," Buffy said. "Before you start telling me how we're all doomed you have to congratulate Willow and Xander on their six-week anniversary."
"Their six-week...?" Giles said, confused. Then he smiled down at them. "Oh! Are you two dating now?"

"Yuppers," Willow said. "Since September twenty-seventh."

"That's wonderful, Willow," Giles said, with that little winsome smile that showed off his dimples, and kissed Willow's cheek. "Congratulations."

"Aren't they the most adorable couple ever?" Buffy said. "They're the most adorable couple ever."

"Yes, Buffy, they're quite wonderfully adorable," Giles said.

"They're adorable," Buffy said, and smiled.

Giles held out his hand to Xander. "Congratulations old chap," he said, again with the smile and the dimples. "Quite a nice catch."

"Didn't think I had it in me, did you?" Xander said, and shook his hand.

"Actually, no," Giles said, and laughed. "I really didn't."

"Okay, I guess you can tell me about how the world's about to end now," Buffy said. "Is the world about to end?"

"If we don't act very quickly, yes, I'm afraid so," Giles said.

"Just so you know? I'm only gonna save the world this time because Will and Xander are the most adorable couple ever," Buffy said. "Everything else in the world is annoying except them. If it weren't for Will and Xander being so damned adorable I'd just take this apocalypse off and stay home and watch Melrose Place and eat ice cream."

"Yes, you know how I love your quirky sense of humor, Buffy," Giles said. "Especially at completely inappropriate times."

"Can you believe Lexi put Amanda out of business on Melrose?" Willow said. "That bitch!"

"Amanda will win in the end," Buffy said. "Amanda always wins."

"I'm all about Dawson's Creek now anyway," Willow said.

"You're so into James Van Der Beek," Buffy said. "You're like his stalker."

"And I'm like Katie Holmes' stalker," Xander said. "Will and I are the perfect couple."

"Excuse me?" Giles said, and smiled and held up his hand and waved at them all. "Hello? Watcher here? World ending? Hello?"

Sunnydale High had a marvelous library. Spacious, two-storied, with tall windows that let in a lot of light, it was a warm, welcoming place, with a vast selection of books for readers of all tastes; a place where one could spend a pleasant afternoon transported to any one of a thousand different worlds of the imagination. Of course, no one at Sunnydale High would be caught dead there.

Almost no one. Giles, Buffy, Willow and Xander were there, as they were most days. And, as on most days, Buffy, Willow and Xander were moderately-to-mostly snarky and Giles was anxious. He was fidgeting around in the stacks, wiping his glasses, which he did when he was anxious or they got fogged up, looking for a particular book among the hundreds of rare and potentially quite dangerous volumes that were inexplicably not locked away in a vault but displayed openly, or perhaps not so inexplicably if one remembers that no one would be caught dead there, while Xander was talking about Star Wars.

"Han has to shoot first," Xander said.

"Remember how you promised you'd stop talking about this?" Buffy said.

"But it ruins the whole scene if he doesn't shoot first!" Xander said. "You can't just go and make half-ass changes to one of the greatest movies of all--"

"Sweetie? You actually raised your right hand and swore on a Bible," Willow said. "Raised your right hand. And swore. On a Bible."

"I took that oath under duress," Xander said, looking accusingly at Buffy. "And my wrist still hurts, thank you very much."

"If I go to George Lucas' house and beat him up, will you stop talking about this?" Buffy said.

Giles came out of the stacks with a book, hurried over to them, and placed the book on the table. It was called Cultes des Goules, and it was turned to an illustration of four skeletons riding horses. It was also bound in human skin, but that wasn't anything new.

"Another day, another human skin book," Buffy said.

"Okay, these guys are giving me a serious wiggins," Xander said.

"'Equestre Quadriiugis'?" Buffy said, puzzling over the illustration's caption.

"It means 'Four Horsemen'," Willow said, suddenly frightened.

"Okay, can everyone stop being scared, please? Because it's scaring me," Xander said.

"Six-thousand years ago, a great flood covered the world. Perhaps you've heard of it," Giles said.

"The flood? With Noah's Ark?" Willow said.

"The Bible embellishes it," Giles said. "The bit with the Ark never happened. But essentially, yes. Many people think the Flood itself was a myth, but it did really happen. What I always thought was a myth...was the presence of the Four Horsemen."

"What are they?" Buffy said.

"Death, War, Pestilence, Famine," Giles said. "Personifications of suffering. In the ancient myths they arrive during the end times, to destroy mankind."

"And now you're about to tell me that they're coming back?" Buffy said.

"If we can't prevent it, yes," Giles said. "And these aren't just run of the mill demons, Buffy. The Horsemen are forces of nature. Instruments of the divine. If they arrive they'll be unstoppable, they'll destroy everything in their path. Our job...your job, Buffy...is to make sure they never get here."

"Yup. It's Friday the thirteenth," Buffy said. "Friday the thirteenth on a Hellmouth. Other people are all like, I hope I don't spill coffee on myself today or fail my Spanish quiz. Not Buffy."

"I hate Friday the thirteenth," Willow said.

"Was it the demon robot that did it or the giant snake?" Buffy said.

"There were the evil leprechauns that time," Xander said.

"They weren't leprechauns," Buffy said. "I refuse to believe in leprechauns. They were...I don't know. Like dwarves maybe."

"They had Irish accents," Xander said.

"Xander, I keep telling you. There's no such thing as leprechauns," Giles said. "Now can we perhaps get back to the world possibly ending?"

"Again," Willow said.

"Y'know, kinda wishing now that I didn't have Willow destroy the Glove of Mini-golf," Buffy said. "Being able to shoot lightning might have been useful with this Four Horsemen thing."

"The problem with the glove being, y'know, having to wear it forever and ever," Willow said.

"Trust me, Buffy, the world is better off without it," Giles said.

"Well, it wasn't very fabulous," Buffy said. "If I'm gonna have to wear something every second for the rest of my life it should at least be fabulous. Find me an adorable little Gucci purse that shoots lightning? Now we're talking."

"Lightning wouldn't be much help against the Horsemen anyway," Giles said. "They're completely impervious to harm, as far as I can tell."

"Well let's all look on the bright side. No giant snake this time," Xander said. He looked up at Giles. "Uh, these Horsemen guys aren't gonna have a giant snake with them, right?"

"No," Giles said with a sigh. "They won't be bringing a giant snake with them. They're merely invincible and unstoppable and will extinguish all life on this planet if they get here."

"But hey, no giant snake," Buffy said.

"What about Faith?" Xander said. "I mean, this sounds pretty major, and two Slayers are better than one, right?"

Giles looked at Buffy. "I've been trying to reach her," he said. "I'll keep trying. And Buffy should try too."

"I'll stop by her place, see how much she hates me this week," Buffy said.

"She doesn't hate you, Buffy," Willow said.

Buffy nodded, and looked down at the table.

"So if these guys are so tough, then who stopped them six-thousand years ago?" Xander said.

Giles turned to a different page in the book. The page was an illustration of a stone artifact. "According to legend, six-thousand years ago, when hope was almost lost, a Sumerian priest performed some sort of prayer ritual, begging the gods for forgiveness," he said. "And an angel appeared with this Key."

"It looks like a rock," Buffy said.

"It's a magic rock," Giles said.

"Oh. Nifty," Willow said.

"It seems the Key opens a dimensional gate, and the Horsemen have been trapped there ever since," Giles said. "The Key was lost..."

"Well, good," Buffy said.

"Unfortunately not," Giles said. "The Council has informed me that the Key was recently excavated in an archaeological dig, and it was stolen from a museum in London a few weeks ago. They believe it's coming here."

He wiped his glasses...and this time, they definitely weren't fogged up.

"Buffy...someone is trying to free the Four Horsemen," Giles said.

King's Park Cemetery was a pretty place, or it would have been during the day; the rambling old cemetery with its gentle, rolling hills was well tended, with rose bushes here and there, and groves of tall sycamore trees casting cool, pleasant shadows in the hot California sun. But it was night now, and the shadows under the sycamore trees loomed vast and threatening, and the moss-grown crypts and the rows of decaying old tombstones looked cold and strangely unreal as Buffy, Faith, Willow and Xander wandered through the cemetery, watching for vampires by the light of the waning moon.

They were working, so Buffy was dressed practically: cargo pants, sweater, a wool coat, and comfy shoes with heels that were excellent for kicking and didn't impede her ability to run. But Faith was armed and fabulous, sporting a hot little ensemble she'd "borrowed" from the mall: nicely butt-hugging AG jeans, an adorable little red top she saw at The Gap and just had to have and a shiny, brand new pair of steel-toed Docs, excellent for vamp-stomping in style. Best of all, the weather was cold enough to wear Evan's leather coat.

Rebecca wouldn't have liked it that Faith had shoplifted the clothes. Faith acknowledged the thought, and then set it aside. She was working.

"These guys are gonna show up at some point, right?" Xander said.

"Willy said the exchange is happening here," Buffy said. "And he's usually reliable after I've hit him a few times. They have to show eventually. Thank God my Mom's out of town for a couple of weeks. I have a feeling trying the 'But Mom, I had to stay out all night hanging around a cemetery because the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse might be coming and the whole world might end' excuse wouldn't have gone over real well."

"Young lady, you're grounded," Willow said.

"So very grounded," Buffy said.

Nine vampires suddenly appeared from out of a grove of trees a ways ahead of them. Buffy grabbed Xander, Faith grabbed Willow, and they all ran behind a rose bush. Buffy and Faith peeked out.

"Show time," Faith said.

"Well, if we weren't sure they were vamps that Bon Jovi tee shirt is a dead giveaway," Buffy said.

"But are these the guys with the Key or the guys paying for it?" Faith said.

"We have to wait for the meet," Buffy said. "Could be the guys they're meeting up with have the Key and if we jump these guys that'll tip them off to us and they'll get away."

"Already nine of them," Faith said. "Once they join up with whoever they're meeting that'll be even more to deal with."

"Can't be helped," Buffy said.

As Buffy and Faith watched, the vampires shuffled along toward an open crypt in the distance, laughing and jostling each other. A few of them were drinking from open whiskey bottles. The one with the Bon Jovi tee-shirt grabbed a bottle away from a fat vampire with muttonchop sideburns and a pompadour walking by his side and drank. Pompadour growled at Bon Jovi and tried to swipe the bottle back. Bon Jovi laughed and threw it over his head to a vampire wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Hawaiian Shirt laughed as Pompadour ran at him and made a grab for the bottle, tossing it to a vampire with a mohawk wearing a biker jacket.

"They're headed for that crypt down there," Buffy said. "We need to move closer so we can check it out."

"And then pull a plan out of our ass," Faith said.

"That too," Buffy said.

"Trees at nine o'clock," Faith said, pointing to their left. "They go all the way down past the crypt. Gets us right up close with good cover and a good view. We make for the trees and circle around."

Buffy nodded, and they all ran along the line of trees, keeping low.

Pompadour eventually managed to snatch his bottle back. "Asshole," he said to Mohawk, and finished the bottle and tossed it away, as the vampires resumed shuffling toward the crypt. Pompadour was actually stumbling toward a tree in the opposite direction from the crypt, but Bon Jovi grabbed him by the shoulders and turned him around.

"Those vamps in there look a little different?" Faith said. They were watching the crypt from behind a stand of dense trees a hundred yards away.

"They look tougher," Buffy said. "And there are a lot of them too, looks like at least twenty vamps. We can't just walk in there. Wait a minute...Faith, you see those four old guys? Are those...priests?"

"Yeah," Faith said, squinting toward the crypt. "Looks like four old priest guys to me. What the hell's up with that? Christ, I hate this town."

"We'll sort it out later," Buffy said. "Right now we gotta pull a plan out of our asses." Buffy looked at her. "We gonna fight on this?"

"World on the line, not the time for dissension in the ranks," Faith said.

"No," Buffy said. "It isn't."

Faith took her hand.

"It's your show, girlfriend," Faith said. Buffy smiled.

"Okay, well, we can't just run in there, there are way too many of them," Buffy said. "They'll have too big an advantage in there."

"I pulled up a layout of this cemetery off the internet last year. The crypts here are all connected by tunnels. There could be a lot more vampires waiting underground too," Willow said.

"We can't get trapped in there," Buffy said. "We have to draw them out."

"But if they make the exchange and disappear into those tunnels with the Key we're screwed," Faith said. "If the choice is between grabbing the Key now while we know what we're up against or waiting 'til it disappears underground and we gotta go fight through who knows how many vamps to go looking for it maybe we're better off taking our chances up here."

"She's got a point, Buffy," Xander said. "If those vamps get their hands on the Key there's no guarantee we'll ever be able to find it again."

"B's right though," Faith said. "If we get bogged down in a fight in there we're in deep shit. There's no room to move in there, the vamps will be swarming all over us. We gotta draw them out, before they make the exchange."

"I think one of them just opened a briefcase," Xander said. "If that's the payoff then we've only got until he's done counting."

"B, we don't figure a way to draw those guys out right now you and me gotta go in there," Faith said. "We gotta go in or we lose the Key."

"I know," Buffy said. "We need a plan. Now."

"Nope," Willow said, and smiled, as they all looked back at her. "You need a witch."

"I'm sure you'll find it's all there," one of the priests said, as Bon Jovi bent over an ancient sarcophagus in the dusty old crypt, a briefcase full of cash open on top of it, and counted. The priest looked like a kindly white-haired old man, with a crewcut and a slight paunch. His voice was deep and soothing. He was dressed in a priest's traditional attire, with a single exception: around his neck he wore a golden pendant in the shape of a wand. Standing in the shadows behind him, eyeing Bon Jovi and his friends suspiciously, the other three old priests also wore golden pendants about their necks: a sword, a cup, a pentacle.

The crypt was small and cramped, holding just a handful of sarcophagi on the floor and in compartments built into the stone walls, and it was dark, lit only by a torch in a wall sconce near the door. The old dried blood stains that marred the stone floor looked brown in the torchlight.

"Sure," Bon Jovi said, grinning. "A priest wouldn't lie to me, right?"

The vampires with Bon Jovi chuckled. The vampires who stood beside the four priests growled back at them. Bon Jovi and his friends had never seen their like before. Their features were far less human in appearance than those of normal vampires; they looked bestial, savage. They had red eyes and pointed ears and canine snouts for noses; they looked like wolves. Their clothing was an afterthought: torn, dirty rags. They stood crouched slightly, with their arms held in front of them, like wolves standing on their hind legs. And each of them had the same tattoo on his right hand: a serpent devouring its tail.

The Priest of Wands looked at Bon Jovi with blue eyes that could cut glass, and smiled, appreciating the joke.

"Of course not, my son," he said, in his deep, soothing voice. "Though I will certainly kill you, very slowly and painfully, if you don't have my Key."

"Lotta money for a hunk of rock," Mohawk said. "Why's it so important to you anyway?"

"Shut up," the Priest of Swords said. He was of a very different sort than the Priest of Wands. He was tall and thin, and he looked younger, with iron-gray hair in a widow's peak, a mouth full of sharp little teeth and a nose like a hawk. "Show us the Key. Or I'll have our vampires rip your miserable throat out to stop your babbling." His voice was terse and clipped; it sounded like gears grinding. Behind him, the wolves growled again.

"Dude, chill," Pompadour said.

The Priest of Swords looked at him. The look in his hard, calculating eyes communicated the fact that he was considering killing Pompadour and all his friends. The look in his eyes communicated that fact quite clearly. Pompadour looked away.

"Almost done counting. Everyone just relax and...huh...?" Bon Jovi said, as the entire crypt suddenly filled with thick, billowing black smoke.

All four priests started coughing as the smoke insinuated itself into their lungs. The vampires didn't need to breathe, but none of them could see, and they stumbled around, growling and slashing at the air.

"What...? What is...?" the Priest of Wands said.

"Under...attack..." the Priest of Swords said.

"The Key! Wait! Give us..." the Priest of Wands said, choking, as Bon Jovi grabbed the briefcase and ran out of the crypt with his pals. The four priests stumbled out after them, along with the strange wolf-faced vampires, but the smoke stayed with them; it blinded them, and snatched the air from their lungs.

"The Key!" the Priest of Swords shouted, spotting Bon Jovi through the smoke and grabbing him by the collar. "Give us the Key!"

"Hey!" Bon Jovi said, and smacked the Priest of Swords away. "I don't even know if the money's all here!"

The wolves sprang at Bon Jovi and his friends; in seconds all the vampires were at each other's throats, snarling and screaming, clawing and biting at each other. But the wolves all tried to get to Bon Jovi, and the Key...

"Get off me!" Bon Jovi screamed, as three of the wolves tackled him, snarling and snapping and biting at him, tearing into his flesh. He lost hold of the briefcase, and it bounced out of his hands and flew open, the money inside scattering through the cemetery.

"The money!" Bon Jovi screamed, as the wolves howled and slashed at him, trying to get the Key. With a snarl of triumph, one of them came up with it...

"Yoink," a voice said, and someone snatched the key from the wolf's hand. "B! I got it!"

"Let's go!" another voice said. The priests all looked around wildly; the vampires slashed at empty air. The smoke was everywhere; they couldn't see a thing. And no matter where they moved, the smoke remained with them...

Buffy and Faith sprinted back toward the trees.

"Might've been nice to stake a few of 'em," Faith said.

"And maybe get killed, and then maybe the world would've ended?" Buffy said.

"Yeah but...I'm just all frustrated now," Faith said.

"I know, baby," Buffy said. "So am I."

"Too bad we couldn't snag that briefcase too."

"Major shoe shopping."

"Hell yeah."

They reached Willow and crouched down beside her behind the trees. "Do you have it? Did it work?" Willow said.

"Yup," Buffy said. "You're the best witch ever. It was even like the smoke knew to stay away from us, and just stick to the bad guys."

"It did," Willow said. "It only blinds the people I want it to blind."

"You kick ass, girlfriend!" Faith said, and rubbed Willow's shoulder. "How much longer will it last?"

"That's the downside to this spell," Willow said, checking her watch. "Short duration. We've only got seconds of smoke left now and I can't recast it for at least a month. Apate doesn't like being bothered too often."

"Apate?" Faith said

"Greek Goddess of Deception," Willow said. She peered out at the vampires. The smoke was clearing. "Um, looks like our time's up."

"Guess it's up to the wheel man now," Buffy said.

"Go Speed Racer, go," Faith said.

They peered out at the vampires and the priests. A few of the wolves were sniffing the ground, trying to catch their scent. The rest of them were foaming at the mouth like rabid dogs, snarling and growling and snapping at Bon Jovi and his pals, not allowing them to move. Bon Jovi and his pals apparently knew when they were overmatched. They stayed very still. "This is bullshit, man," Buffy and Faith heard Bon Jovi whining. The priests were busy scooping up the money that had scattered around the cemetery. The smoke was gone now; with the wolves and Bon Jovi's group, Buffy and Faith counted twenty-one vampires.

"We can maybe take these guys," Faith said. "We got room to move out here. If they head this way we gotta go at 'em, lead 'em away from Will."

"They're already coming," Buffy said, and pointed. Three of the wolves were moving on all fours, sniffing the ground and heading in their direction.

"They got a bead on us," Faith said. "We gotta take a run at 'em."

"Yeah," Buffy said. "We'll head left, opposite direction from where the car's gonna be. Will, you run right toward the entrance and meet Xander."

"But...I don't want to leave you guys out there alone," Willow said.

"Not up for debate, Will," Buffy said, and turned and looked at her. Willow knew what that look meant.

Faith handed Willow the Key. "Will, the Key is what matters," she said. "B and me, we're expendable. But we're countin' on you to get this Key back to Giles. If you and Xan Man gotta take off without us, that's what you do, got it?"

Buffy looked at Willow again.

"Got it?" Buffy said.

Willow nodded.

Buffy looked back at the vampires. "Those ugly ones, the ones that look kinda..." she said.

"Like animals, sorta," Faith said. "Wolves."

"Are you sure they're not...werewolves, maybe?" Willow said. "That's what I always thought a werewolf would look like, except they're not hairy."

"They're vamps," Faith said. "Maybe they look like wolves but they smell like vamps."

"Yeah," Buffy said. "The nose knows. And they're tougher than the others. Wherever they come from they're tougher than regular vamps."

"We should go straight at the wolves first, take out as many of them as we can," Faith said. "Gives us our best chance. Looks like they're the ones who want the Key anyway. Those other guys, I think they just want their money. Don't look like they're up for a scuffle."

"Ever fight this many?" Buffy said.

"Dusted thirteen of K's goons," Faith said. "But they were regular vamps. I don't know what the hell's up with these wolf vamp guys."

The three wolves were coming closer, still sniffing the ground, and now three more had joined them, crawling in the dirt on all fours and growling. Bon Jovi and his pals were arguing with the priests, while the other six wolves stood by the priests, watching Bon Jovi and snarling.

"Here's our chance," Faith said. "They're divided. We run at these six, take them by surprise, dust as many as we can and head left. Once the rest of them come at us Will heads right." She turned and looked at Willow. "Got that, Will? Wait 'til all the vamps are on me and B. Then you run for it and keep low."

"And you don't look back," Buffy said. "Okay?"

"But...okay," Willow said.

Buffy and Faith looked at each other. They felt the connection. They both felt warm.

"On three," Buffy said.

"Three," Faith said, and grinned, and started running.

Buffy giggled, and ran after her.

"I hate this car," Xander said, holding a tire iron across his lap and wrestling with the clutch in Giles' Citroen DS and shoving the car into gear. The car lumbered and lurched along the dirt road outside the cemetery in fits and starts like a crotchety old man on his way to the toilet.

"You better not friggin' stall out on me, froggie," Xander said, as he gingerly maneuvered the car into the cemetery, trying his best to steer around the obstacle course of old tombstones that presented itself while trying to maintain speed. "Sure, I know you hate us, and we definitely hate you, but do you really want us all to die? Wait, don't answer that."

"Xander!" Xander heard, as Willow suddenly appeared out of the darkness to his left and ran up to the passenger side door. He screeched to a stop and Willow flung the door open and jumped in.

"Drive!" Willow screamed.

Buffy and Faith had managed to stake four of the wolves, but now the other eight had them surrounded, growling and snapping and slashing at them with their long claws. Bon Jovi and his pals were there too, standing with the priests. Buffy and Faith stood back to back, trying to hold the wolves off as the wolves snarled at them, looking for openings.

"If they don't have my Key you are in a world of trouble you cannot possibly imagine," the Priest of Wands said to Bon Jovi, as he eyed Buffy and Faith with contempt. "Women," he muttered. "They ruin everything...corrupt every single thing they touch."

"Dude, you got issues," Bon Jovi said.

A wolf sprang at Faith, going for her throat; Faith punched it in the face and sent it to the ground and kicked it away. There was no time to bend down and stake it; she had to keep her guard up. She knew if she let even one of these vampires get in under her guard she'd be in trouble. And she knew Buffy was counting on her to watch her back. The best she could do was hold them off. The only way to protect Buffy was to hold them off, and wait for Xander...

Buffy spun and kicked a wolf that came too close. He went flying backwards and hit the ground, but he got right back up again, snarling.

"These fuckers are pissin' me off," Faith said. Faith was growling, a little; Buffy could hear it, a low rumble coming up from the pit of Faith's stomach. Buffy knew Faith wanted to leap at the vampires like a lion, that she wanted to tear into them and feel their bones crack in her hands. She knew because she wanted the same thing: Buffy heard herself growling now, too. These strange, bestial new vampires were quicker and stronger than the ordinary variety. And they were like a wolf pack: individually they were no match for a Slayer, but in a group this large they posed a dire threat. And it was offensive for Buffy and Faith, to find themselves in this position: held at bay by these lesser predators, these worthless scavengers. Buffy snarled, and showed them her teeth. Their scent raised her hackles. Their scent made her want to spring at them, and rip their throats out. They were in her territory. They didn't belong.

But it wasn't the smart play. The smart play was waiting for Xander...

Xander saw Buffy and Faith up ahead, surrounded by vampires.

"Get your seatbelt on, Will," he said.

Willow put her seatbelt on. "What are we gonna do?" she said.

"Kick ass and chew bubblegum," Xander said. "And we're all out of bubblegum." He stomped on the gas...

And he plowed into the wolves surrounding Buffy and Faith, running over four of them; they slammed into the car's fender and bounced up and over the roof. The Citroen was a tub but it was an old tub made of good sturdy metal and it could take punishment. Xander kept straight on, forcing the car to keep steady and running over some of Bon Jovi's pals next. Buffy and Faith had hit the dirt and rolled the moment the car had appeared and Bon Jovi and the priests had scattered out of the way. Xander spun the car around without stopping and floored it again and rammed into two more of the wolves who were about to spring at the car. Buffy and Faith were up now, running for the car. Xander hit the brakes and Willow threw the doors open.

"Hurry!" Xander shouted. Buffy dove into the back seat. Faith was right behind her...

Until two of the wolves tackled Faith from behind and brought her down.

"FAITH!" Buffy screamed.

Faith punched one of the wolves in the face, and he went flying, but now the rest were on her...she covered up and kicked out with her legs, trying to dislodge them, as they punched her in the face over and over again...

She heard something that sounded like an aluminum bat hitting a baseball and a vampire crouching above her was suddenly knocked to the ground. She looked up, and caught a glimpse of Xander swinging a tire iron. And then vampires were suddenly flying everywhere, and Faith saw Buffy standing above her, tossing vampires through the air like leaves in a hurricane...

"Xander, get back to the car!" Buffy shouted, and helped Faith up. Xander ran back to the car as Buffy and Faith stood in front of it and formed a line. But they both knew this was the wrong play. They needed to get out of there, but without buying themselves some time there was no way to even get back into the car; if they turned their backs on these vampires for even a second they knew they'd be eviscerated, and then Willow and Xander would be next. Bon Jovi and his friends had taken off, at least, but the wolves that Xander had run over were already back up; all eight surrounded Buffy and Faith now.

"We can take these guys!" Faith snarled, as she spun and kicked a vampire in the face and sent it flying.

"Maybe, maybe not," Buffy said, elbowing a vampire in the head and punching it in the face. "But we have to get the Key the hell out of...oh, my God."

Buffy and Faith suddenly saw more vampires running out of the crypt toward them, all wolves...there were dozens, scores of them...

"Holy shit," Faith said.

"Xander! Get out of here!" Buffy shouted. "Now! DRIVE!"

A wolf leaped at Buffy...

And it stopped in mid-air, three feet away, and fell to the ground.

"What the hell was that?" Faith said. A wolf tried to slash at her with its claws, but they stopped three feet away; they stopped as if there was an invisible wall blocking them. "What the...? What's goin' on?"

The rest of the vampires had reached them now; there were more than a hundred in front of them, slashing and clawing, growling and screaming and trying to get to them. But something stopped them...

"Energy shield," Willow said from behind them. Buffy and Faith turned and looked at her. She was sitting in the car, holding her arm out the window, aiming her hand in the direction of the vampires. Her hand was shaking, and the air seemed to distort around it...seemed to ripple, like waves. Willow's face was contorted as if she were in pain, and her nose was bleeding. "See? Just...need...a witch," she said, in a labored whisper.

Buffy and Faith leaped into the backseat of the car, as the vampires pounded at the energy shield, howling and shrieking and slavering like dogs, trying to claw their way through. Xander floored it, and they drove away.

"Holy shit," Faith said. "Are we really gonna make it out of this? Thought I was done for sure."

"Will," Buffy said. "You don't...you don't look too good."

"Concen...tration..." Willow said, her eyes squeezed shut, her whole body shaking now. Her voice was tight, constricted. "Holding...holding it..."

"We've got some distance," Xander said, looking in the rearview mirror. No way they catch us now. Unless this piece of shit fucking car stalls and oh my God why did I say that am I the stupidest person in the world yup I think I am."

As if in answer, the dashboard oil light blinked on.

"No, no no," Xander said. "No no no you piece of fucking shit you're not stalling on me! Do you fucking hear me you stupid fucking car?!"

The oil light turned off. The car kept up its speed.

"Think you scared it," Faith said.

"It's French," Xander said. "It surrendered."

"Will," Buffy said, and took Willow's hand. "We're safe. You can stop."

A little scream suddenly escaped Willow's lips; she sounded like she had just put down a heavy weight that she had been carrying for a long time. She leaned back against the seat, and a shudder went through her, and she stopped shaking. She was sweating, and gasping. Her breathing slowly returned to normal, as Buffy held her hand.

"You okay, baby?" Xander said, and wiped the blood away from Willow's nose, and caressed her cheek. Willow nodded, and leaned her head on his shoulder, and he put his arm around her.

Xander checked the rearview mirror again. The vampires were running after them, but they were too far away. The car was at the entrance now. Before he turned back onto the road, Xander leaned out the window and looked back at the vampires, and grinned.

"Hey assholes!" he shouted, and gave them all the finger, and giggled at them. "Fuck you too!"

Faith held up her hand. Xander gave her a high five.

Xander got the car back onto the road. "Well, that was invigorating," he said. "Who's up for pizza?"

"Likin' your style, Xan Man," Faith said.

"I come off the bench, I like to put points on the board," Xander said. He looked down at Willow. "How you doin' Will?"

"Sleepy," Willow muttered, dozing on his shoulder.

Xander kissed the top of her head.

"Hey, uh...are you two dating?" Faith said.

"Duh," Willow said, and turned to Faith and smiled a sleepy little smile. "Where have you been?"

The four priests stood before the crypt, a throng of more than two-hundred vampires gathered about them.

"Scores of you. Scores!" the Priest of Wands shouted. "And you couldn't stop them?"

The vampires glared at him, but they remained still and silent, waiting on his words. The Priest of Pentacles, a frail-looking old man with white hair and glasses, moved his wrinkled, shaking hands slowly through the air in front of him.

"There was powerful magic here. I can still feel it," he said, in his faint, rasping voice.

"Willow Rosenberg," the Priest of Wands muttered darkly.

"The Watchers Council is aware of us," the Priest of Swords said. "They've alerted their Slayers."

The Priest of Cups, a short, bald, barrel-chested old man, practically snarled. "If we could only kill that little bitch Rosenberg..." he said, spitting out the name like it left a bad taste in his mouth.

"Impossible," the Priest of Pentacles said. "The Powers That Be are protecting her now...no force we could bring could kill her."

"Aw," a voice said. "So now you're just gonna give up? Where's that get up and go spirit? That good old-fashioned stick-to-itiveness?"

It was Buffy's voice...

And the priests turned...and saw Buffy walking out of the crypt.

Instantly, all of them, the priests and the vampires alike, knelt in front of her. Buffy smiled.

"You look good there. But it takes more than a few romantic gestures to win a girl's heart," she said, looking down at them. "So things get hard and you just give up? Did everyone suddenly wake up French today?"

"We haven't given up, most holy one," the Priest of Wands said, his eyes cast down to the dirt. "We..."

"You can look at me," Buffy said. "But keep up the kneeling. It's cute."

"Most high, the Powers have begun protecting the chosen one's life," the Priest of Pentacles said. "We only just today uncovered her name, but we were too late. The stars have aligned, and the Powers prevent her death now, until she performs the ritual."

"Powers, shmowers," Buffy said. "Earth to old guys? I'm the First. The original power. I'm like, totally more powerful than the Powers. And I'll overlook your lack of faith, and just this once not eat your eyeballs with a spoon. 'Cuz, well, eating eyeballs? Kinda gross...but I could eat your eyeballs. I could totally eat your eyeballs if you guys go all lame on me. And hey, entrails? I can do stuff with entrails you wouldn't believe. It's a whole big entrails thing."

"Yes, your worship," the Priest of Wands said. "We'll kill Rosenberg for you. We will find a way..."

"That's sweet," Buffy said. "But you can't get past the Powers alone, you're all just a bunch of tiny little insignificant mostly undead evolved monkeys. But I can guide you past them. There's a ceremony...a prayer. And it's a prayer to me, which makes it even cooler. Bring the witch to my shrine. And bring snacks too, the ceremony's a long one. Once it's complete my power will be manifest on this plane long enough for the Powers' hold to be broken. Then gut the bitch, and we can all experience that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with the extermination of the world's last hope. And then we party! Can you say jello shots?"

"We are unfamiliar with this prayer, my lord," the Priest of Swords said. "Will you teach it to us?"

"Do I have to do everything for you guys? I mean, hello, all-powerful evil here. Do I look like I want to do homework? It's in the back of one of Pentacle Boy's magic books. My Bringers can help with the translation. Just find the damn prayer, okay? I got places I could be."

"Your grace," the Priest of Wands said. "The Key...we...don't have it. The Slayers took it..."

"All-knowing, remember?" Buffy said. "But hey, guess what? I just got back from spending some quality time with your supplier and it turns out that Key was a fake. It's just a brick with a glamour on top of it. I swear, dealing with evil people is such a pain in the ass. Double crossing weasels. But it throws the Slayers off our scent for awhile. While they have a fake Key you guys can quietly take the real one. Your supplier didn't get his money, so he'll be in touch. But watch him. He isn't always sure where he stands. Guy's totally pussy-whipped. But kind of a hottie though. In a gross, vampire sort of way."

"Thank you, your holiness," the Priest of Wands said. "We are truly blessed to be--"

"Yeah, yeah, keep it in your pants, Matlock," Buffy said. "Wanna make me happy? Get the Key, gut the fucking wicca whore and bring on the night. Then you can whisper sweet nothings in my ear all you want."

She walked back to the crypt, then turned at the entrance, and looked at them again. They were still kneeling.

"Hey," Buffy said. "Does this skirt look inappropriate to you?"

"Absolutely not, your grace," the Priest of Swords said. "You are the image of perfection."

"Knew it," Buffy said, and grinned.

On their way back from the cemetery they stopped at a pizza place that was open late. There were amateurish murals of the canals of Venice covering the walls and little jukeboxes on all the tables, and someone's cat had managed to sneak in; she was a chocolate brown and white Siamese with big blue eyes and a collar with a little silver bell on it, and she padded from table to table, purring and begging for scraps. Faith and Buffy both gave her some pepperoni, and she licked their fingers and moved on to the next booth. Willow and Xander sat next to each other holding hands in the booth. Buffy and Faith sat across from them. Willow had put a quarter in the jukebox and they were all listening to an English lady Faith had never heard of.

"Miss Thang's got a pretty good racket goin'," Faith said, watching the cat moving among the booths and purring at all the customers. "Look at her, goin' on with her bad self."

"Could be Mister Thang," Xander said. "Hard to tell from here."

"She's a girl cat," Faith said. "Girl cats smell different than boy cats."

"Seriously?" Xander said.

"The nose knows," Buffy said.

They ate their pepperoni pizza and drank their Cokes, and Faith didn't feel as uncomfortable around Willow and Xander as she usually did. She knew part of it was that she had money now: she had smashed into a Coke machine the night before and come away with almost two-hundred dollars, fifty-four cans of Coke and thirty-one cans of Sprite. And even though they hadn't talked very much, the silence didn't feel so awkward this time.

Faith watched Willow and Xander. Willow still looked tired; that energy shield had apparently taken a hell of a lot out of her. Her eyes were closed, and her head swayed back and forth slightly as she listened to the strange English lady singing. Xander looked at Faith and grinned.

"She'll be okay," he said. "Some of her spells kinda throw her for a loop and she gets all tired and trancey. She just needs some food, then some rest."

"And her goofy British music," Buffy said.

"Don't make fun of PJ," Willow said.

"So. Energy shields, huh?" Buffy said. "Didn't know you could do energy shields."

Willow opened her eyes.

"I've been practicing combat spells," Willow said. "Since...last month. No one's ever gonna do that to me again."

"Will," Buffy said. "I get that? I totally do, but...I worry about you. I worry about you out there."

"I want to do it," Willow said. "I like helping."

"And aren't we allowed to worry about you too, Buff?" Xander said. "Friendship works both ways."

"I thought you said offensive and defensive spells were really super hard?" Buffy said. "Just a couple of months ago you said you thought you were a long ways away from something like an energy shield."

"It's easier now," Willow said. "I figured out what I was doing wrong."

"What's that?" Buffy said.

"I wasn't letting myself get angry," Willow said. "Before I was all, y'know, looking at it like a math problem. But magic's about feeling, and real powerful combat spells like energy shields, or fireballs or whatever, are all about willpower, and letting yourself feel things, even bad things. Anger, and fear, and hate. You have to let yourself feel that stuff, then move past it. I was always afraid to let myself feel that stuff, to really get down inside it."

"Now you're not?" Faith said.

"If you want to be a witch you can't be afraid of power," Willow said. "Having it, using it. That energy shield was built from my will."

"Kinda right there in your name," Faith said. "Will."

"Y'know, it's weird?" Willow said. "I never really thought of my name like that before. I don't think it ever even really occurred to me. I always thought, y'know, Willow...pretty Willow tree. Willow the Wisp. Weeping Willow."

"Willpower's the first thing I thought of when you told me your name," Faith said.

Willow smiled.

"Okay, well...just take it slow for me, Will?" Buffy said. "Just...be careful for me? This stuff puts a lot of wear and tear on you and I worry. And there's a big difference between doing spells for me long-range from the library or Giles' house and doing spells with a hundred vampires like five feet away from you."

"Willow doesn't put up that shield, you and me are dead in that cemetery, B," Faith said. "No ifs, ands or buts. Maybe you don't want Will taking point but that doesn't mean you don't need her out there, y'know?"

"Can't PJ write something we can dance to?" Buffy said.

"She's sensitive," Willow said, and closed her eyes again, as if she was about to fall asleep. "She doesn't dance. Whoa. Okay, need mocha cappuccino."

"We'll hit a Starbucks, hon," Xander said. "You eat up first, okay?"

"Little fish big fish," Willow murmured, with her eyes closed, and took a bite of her pizza, and swayed.

"Besides, I'm not sure English people can dance," Xander said.

"They can dance," Faith said.

"Yeah, actually, Giles is pretty good," Buffy said.

"You danced with Giles?" Willow murmured.

"Junior prom," Buffy said. "Remember? He was chaperoning."

"Aw, that's cute," Willow said. "You're like his little girl."

"Um...I don't know," Buffy said. "It was just a dance."

"Nothing to be embarrassed about, B," Faith said. "It's pretty obvious the G-Man really cares about you. You're his girl, y'know?"

"Yeah?" Buffy said, and smiled. "You really think so?"

"Yup," Willow said.

"He's all proper and British about it," Xander said. "But yeah. I think his favorite part is looking at you disapprovingly and frowning when you screw up."

"Yup, he's got that part totally down," Buffy said. "It's because I'm so intractable."

"So hey, how long have you two kids been together?" Faith said.

"A little over six weeks," Xander said. "Actually, we got together for the first time the day we all met you."

"Hey, you," Willow said, and suddenly opened her eyes, and smiled, and took Faith's hand. "I see you lookin' at me. You're my pal now, so you gotta, y'know, deal with all my trancey weirdness."

"And her completely non-danceable British music," Buffy said.

"It's cool, Will," Faith said, and smiled. "I'm dealin'."

After Buffy dropped Xander and Willow off, she let the car idle in front of Xander's house, and looked out at the dark street, avoiding Faith's eyes.

"Uh, so we headin' out?" Faith said.

"Faith. The offer's still open," Buffy said.

"Hey, that's...that's really nice of you, B, but..."

Buffy nodded, put the car in gear, and drove.

Buffy didn't look at Faith on the way to the motel. She didn't say anything. They drove in silence for a minute, and then Buffy put the radio on.

When they got to the motel, Faith got out of the car, and smiled at Buffy. But Buffy still wouldn't look at her.

"Thanks for the ride," Faith said. "Some crazy night, huh?"

"Yeah. Whatever," Buffy said, and drove away, leaving Faith standing alone in the parking lot.

Part 19

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